FOLLANSBEE - The sacrifices of many who served in the military at wartime and peace were remembered by the many who gathered at Follansbee Park Thursday for the dedication of a monument intended to serve as a lasting reminder of those veterans.
As guest speaker for the event, Robert Gaudio, a Wheeling attorney and chairman of the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival, said he didn't serve in the military but as a member of the Peace Corps who served in Yemen, he saw the ravages of war and has deep respect for those who have fought in wars.
A Follansbee native, Gaudio said he was moved upon seeing the fountain monument near the park's center and its tribute to all veterans, particularly those who died while serving their country.
Santina 'Sandy' Perito, mother of Joey Perito —a Follansbee man who was killed while serving in Vietnam — placed a wreath at the Veterans Memorial Fountain at Follansbee Park on behalf of all Gold Star Mothers with the help of her family. Taking part were, from left, Sandy's daughter, Sandra Diserio; Sandy, her son, Ron; and her daughter, Roseanna. -- Warren Scott
"They gave their very lives because they valued the gift of freedom more than life itself," he said.
Gaudio also acknowledged prisoners of war. He said he was honored to speak recently to the Ohio Valley Barbed Wire Chapter of Ex-POWs led by John Chernenko of Wellsburg.
He said the group's members are among many who suffered atrocities but upon returning home, said little about their experiences and didn't expect any special treatment as they strove to live normal lives.
"That's as good a definition of patriotism as I know," Gaudio said.
A 1970 Brooke High School graduate, Gaudio was a classmate of Joey Perito, a 21-year-old sergeant in the Army's 101st Airborne Division who was killed by a land mine while serving in Vietnam.
Perito's ability to locate land mines in the past saved the lives of fellow soldiers and he passed up two chances to be discharged, for injuries sustained from shrapnel and burns, because he wanted to serve with his company, said friends and family members.
A monument honoring Perito was established near the park's Mark Avenue entrance in 2008 through the efforts of classmates, friends and family members.
Gaudio also told of meeting Hershel "Woody" Williams, a Fairmont, W.Va. native and demolition sergeant in the Battle of Iwo Jima who received a Congressional Medal of Honor. Williams used explosive charges and flamethrowers to annihilate enemy troops while under heavy fire over a four-hour period.
Gaudio said Williams often speaks of the four Marine sharpshooters who provided cover for him, noting two were killed.
"He wears the medal for them, he says," Gaudio said.
Gaudio thanked all who made the monument possible, adding no one can bring back those who were killed but they can treat the living veterans with respect and work to ensure the government provides them the benefits they deserve.
"The U.S. stands strong and proud today and will continue to stand strong and proud thanks to the sacrifices of our veterans. Never ever forget our veterans," he said.
The monument consists of a a 5-foot urn comprised of stacked stone, surrounded by a 2-foot high circle of estate stone with a pump that recirculates water from the base to the urn.
It was funded by Follansbee City Council and various businesses, groups and individuals solicited by the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce and 20th Century Woman's Club, a chapter of the General Federation of Women's Clubs.
The flowers and woodchips surrounding it were donated by Professional Lawn and Landscape of Follansbee, who built it; the blue and white sign designating it was provided by Express Signs of Follansbee and Chambers and James Funeral Homes is donating a stone marker bearing the insignia of the military branches and an inscription recognizing veterans for their service.
Santina "Sandy" Perito, Joey's mother, placed a wreath at the monument on behalf of Gold Star Mothers, a designation given to mothers of service members who died while serving in wars. She was assisted by her son, Ron; and daughters, Roseanna Perito and Sandra Diserio.
Asked how her brother would have felt about the veterans monument, Sandra said, "He'd be ecstatic."
Rich Puskarich, husband of Chamber Executive Director Debbie Puskarich and a Vietnam War veteran, recently brought a visiting friend, Dave Niles of Frewsburg, N.Y., to see the monument.
He and Niles have kept in touch since serving in Vietnam together.
"I think it's beautiful. I appreciate what everybody has done. There was a lot of time and effort put into it, and I'm sure all of the veterans appreciate it," Puskarich said.
Hartzel Brady, a past commander of the Follansbee American Legion Post and Vietnam War veteran, praised Chamber President Tony Paesano and all involved in establishing the monument.
"I think it's a wonderful tribute to the veterans of Follansbee, Brooke County and the country," he said.
Brady and other members of the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad, led by Doug Lilly, delivered a military salute and conducted a formal folding of the U.S. flag. Brady also rang a bell following the name of each fallen veteran read by Paesano.
Toni Shute, Paesano's daughter and head principal of Brooke High School, announced the names of many veterans in attendance and their military branches and conflicts and called for each to stand and be recognized. The veterans were invited to write that information on cards before the program.
Paesano, who served as master of ceremonies, acknowledged L.A. Orsini, a local veteran who was unable to attend because of illness. A World War II Navy veteran, Orsini participated in seven major battles in the Pacific Theater while aboard the USS Tracy and has served as president of the Naval Minewarfare Association.
Also participating in the dedication were: Monsignor John Hudok of St. Anthony Catholic Church and Joe Cuomo, pastor of the Christian Assembly Church; Marla Mercer, who performed patriotic music; the Tri-State Young Marines Color Guard under the direction of Gabe Arlia, Mayor David Velegol Jr. and Todd Anderson, regional representative of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin; and the 20th Century Club, who provided refreshments.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)